Native Americans in the News: Images of Indians in the Twentieth Century

By Riley, Sam G. | Journalism History, Autumn 1996 | Go to article overview
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Native Americans in the News: Images of Indians in the Twentieth Century


Riley, Sam G., Journalism History


Weston, Mary Ann. Native Americans in the News: Images of Indians in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. 200 pp. $55.

The purpose of Native Americans in the News is not to chronicle the actual accomplishments of American Indians, but to describe how they have been collectively portrayed in the U.S. press during this century. The author does so admirably. Her book provides a study in long-lived, though changeable cultural stereotypes and mythology.

From newspaper and magazine accounts spanning this soon-tobe-completed century, the reader will find extremes in the way Native Americans have been depicted. At one end of the spectrum is the lazy, stolid, thieving, dirty, cunning, liquor-crazed, warlike savage: the "bad Indian." At the other extreme is nature's nobleman: the "good Indian" as environmental paragon, natural healer, keen-sensed physical exemplar. This is, in short, the politically correct Kevin Costner version of the Indian, in which every Native American is pictured as wiser than Leonardo DaVinci and nobler than St. Francis of Assisi.

Weston follows the trail of frequently poor, unimaginative reporting of Indians that, probably without meaning to, manipulated the image of the Native Americans to fit prevailing U.S. government policy. It begins with the debates in the 1920s over cultural pluralism (maintaining tribal identities) vs. assimilation (absorption of Indians into the American melting pot) and continues to the controversies of the 1990s, such as the sports mascot issue. Regarding the latter, while most non-Indians probably see no problem with the use of team names like the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Redskins, Native American journalists such as Tim Giago have asked how the rest of us would feel about such hypothetical team names as the Chicago Caucasions or the Baltimore Negroes.

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